Feeling the Squeeze: Tips for the Sandwich Generation

Your mother-in-law needs a ride to two different doctors this week. Your father hasn’t been feeling well and you’re getting concerned. You promised to take your daughter to look at colleges this month and your older son just asked if it’s okay if he moves back home for a while until he lands a better job.

Oh, and you’ve got two important out-of-state business meetings coming up.

Does this sound familiar? If so, then you are officially a member of the Sandwich Generation, part of a growing group of Americans who are caring for their elderly parents and their children while working. According to recent research, the “typical” US caregiver is a 46-year-old woman who works outside the home and spends more than 20 hours per week providing unpaid care to her mother. Most caregivers are married or living with a partner and the majority of caregivers are middle-aged (35-64-years old).

The good news is there are plenty of resources out there for members of the Sandwich Generation like yourself so you can stop feeling squeezed by those you love most. Check out these tips:

Step Away from Your Retirement Fund
As much as you want to help your parents and children, you should not jeopardize your own financial well-being. Don’t use the money you’ve put aside for your retirement to fund your children’s education. Look into student loans and financial assistance. However possible, use your parents’ assets for their own care. If you don’t already have it, look into long-term insurance for you and your spouse to help with your retirement needs one day.

Turn to the Professionals
Legal, finance and insurance professionals all have a wealth of knowledge so tap into their expertise rather than try to figure it all out on your own. From help with paying for college to deciding on the right type of insurance for yourself to explaining tax benefits of caring for elderly parents, getting advice from experts is key.

Ask for Help and Ask Often
Don’t be shy about asking others to help you. Turn to siblings, other family members and close family friends for help with caring for your elderly parents. Set up a visitation schedule and remind others of their obligations. Check out community and nonprofit organizations that provide invaluable services such as adult daycare programs that offer caregivers much-needed respite.

Have a Heart-to-Heart
Studies show that absenteeism from work among women caregivers due to caregiving responsibilities costs businesses almost $270 million a year. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your family and work responsibilities, have a discussion with your manager or supervisor. Discuss the possibility of flexible work hours or using paid sick leave. Some larger companies offer resources through employee assistance programs. Businesses with 50 or more employees must comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a seriously ill parent, spouse or child, while protecting job security.

Don’t Forget You!
Probably the best tip we can give you—and most likely the hardest one for you to follow—is to put yourself first. Your health and well-being are what will sustain you and your loved ones during this stressful time. Do something just for you at least once a week: take a yoga class, get a massage or catch up on your favorite television show. In short, take time to breathe. Stay active, maintain a healthy lifestyle and don’t forget to ask for help when you need it. Taking care of yourself means you’ll be better able to care for all of your loved ones.

We want to hear from you! Are you part of the Sandwich Generation? How do you handle working and caring for loved ones?

  1. Deidra Dunbar

    I am a part of the sandwich generation and fortunately, my husband’s and my parents are very independent. So it’s more financial help that we provide. We just put extra money aside for them and instead of always helping the kids, we teach them to help themselves. Like you mentioned earlier, we have a daughter in college and instead of paying for her, she took out a small loan which she can pay back and gain credit in the process. We had two kids move back, but have them deadlines and one chance. The second time you can’t come back. Now they are actually doing great because they have to depend on themselves and not us. Tough love! It makes them stronger and keeps us above water.

  2. Jill Marie Chapman

    My oldest brother and I have been part of the sandwich generation for the past several years. We both are married with kids and work full time. I am now between roles and it’s critical I put enough time into the job search to find my next role quickly— my oldest goes to college next fall!

    Our caregiving is from out of state— our 88 year old father with Alzheimers and 87 year old mom still live in the house we grew up in and our 59 year old disabled brother is in assisted living near them. Our caregiving has ratcheted up over the years— first, we tried to help get our hands around the finances when Dad started getting ill. Dad was an engineer, so we found the finances were very complicated– more than necessary. My brother put all the bills on automatic payment, I gained access to bank accounts to be able to write certain checks when Mom was too tired. I’m an attorney with benefits expertise, so I determined what benefits they had and cancelled a lot of little life insurance plans that Mom agreed to. We’ve sold a van on Craigs List and our grandma’s house to a developer. Mom felt much better with a simplified cashflow that covered her expenses and no more overdraft charges. She was also glad they had long term care insurance, because she has been able to keep Dad at home. Now we have someone visit and help out five days a week with meals, medicine, cleaning and it’s paid for through the insurance. Our ultimate goal that Mom agreed to is to try to keep them in their house as long as possible so Dad is in familiar surroundings. Small blessings, like he still can dress himself, are something we celebrate daily.

    My brother put all my parents’ info into an Excel spreadsheet. So now we have one tab with doctor contact info, one tab with work the day care givers should do– we send this to the home care supervisor to share with the team, one tab with lists of what the two of us should do. Once, my brother set up an online conference call with me to go over the parents’ expenses and income. We literally worked off a shared spreadsheet from two different States. We are so blessed to have technology to help with all of this.


    The most time-consuming work is having to keep tabs on the home workers— we’ve been through about twelve after one year and have exactly one who works Thursday who was with us since early in 2014. Some of the workers don’t want to work. They want to, as Mom puts it “watch people sitting on the couch in case they fall off”. This has resulted in my brother running weekly calls with the supervisors to make sure everything is going smoothly. I’ve had a chance to go to my parents to take Mom to a doctor after she had a ministroke last year. We had to fire the geriatric doctor and find a new one, because the doctor hadn’t bothered to take my parents off medicines on a timely basis. My parents’ generation will take medicine forever unless the doctor tells them to stop. That’s a fact. Then, my brother’s assisted living facility needs regular checkups, because the staff changes and he is ignored and not cared for properly if we are not on top of it. We try to get partners in the care system, someone who cares, and work through what we can. We also focus Mom so she doesn’t try to do everything– we tell her that her job is to stay well to keep Dad and her son alive. We talk to her often and talk her out of some things she wants to do. For example, we delegate things she wants to do for our brother to the facility he is in– we remind her “how many other disabled men have an 87 year old mom to run around for them?” It’s a process.

    It will all go so quickly and we don’t have any of them for much longer. This is a journey of love and I’m so grateful to have my brother as a partner in this. We’ve agreed on the priorities and try not to burden our spouses with the issues. One day at a time.

    • Lisa Mancuso

      As an obvious member of the Sandwich Generation, you certainly have your hands full but it sounds like you are facing the challenges with grace and perseverance. Thank you for sharing your insight, Jill, and we’re so glad you have the support of your brother!

  3. Janet Fife

    Not only does my 90 year old father-in-law live with us but we have been raising our grandchildren. We each work 2 jobs to keep the bills paid and help our daughter so she can get re-established. The whole situation is exhausting. My husband and I are totally committed to each other and help one another when we each need it. We have duties for everyone so when someone fails to do their ‘job’ the whole situation suffers. It absolutely takes teamwork, patience and some laughter to keep your head above this ocean of crashing waves.

    • Lisa Mancuso

      You and your husband seem like a great team, Janet. We hope the advice in this article – and the accompanying tips from our members – help you both as you navigate through your situation.

  4. Kimberly Truax

    Agencies like Kind Companions can help by providing support, relief and assistance ensuring your parents are well cared for while you are being Super Mom and Wonder Woman at work! Kind Companions proudly serves most of the DFW metroplex!

    • Lisa Mancuso

      Thanks for the information, Kimberly. It will be helpful to our members in the DFW metroplex area.

  5. Brenda Nyhus

    When both of my parents were dealing with Alzheimer’s, my husband was experiencing severe health issues and a son (with a daughter) was living with us, I felt like I was in a whirlwind most days. Fortunately, I also have a sister who also resides in the same city. Together, we arranged our time to fit into both of our schedules. It was extremely exhausting to go through, but I have never regretted the time devoted to them. We learn so much every day and take much for granted. It is a very eye-opening experience to be in the sandwich generation!

    Lisa, my husband’s first wife (he lost her to breast cancer) was a Mancuso.

    • Lisa Mancuso

      Thanks, Brenda. Your story illustrates how family support is so important for the Sandwich Generation.

  6. Lisa Gregory

    Thanks for all the tips! Will look up Kind Companions for sure. I have found some success with Care.com. Best advice I can share is to have back-ups in place way ahead of time, before you think you need them or an emergency hits. It is much easier to make calls and talk to people and agencies and resources when you are not under the pressure of an emergency.

    In addition to my 84 year old Mom and three sons, I have two grandsons in the picture too. My son who is the father of my grandchildren split with their mother and has moved in with me and has the grandsons half the time while working and in graduate school. I immediately set limits, drew lines and worked hard to get third party care for everyone where I could when they were not doing it themselves and kept expecting me to jump in for poor planning.

    Rather than suffering I took the lead on finding help and it was a lot easier than I thought. That’s actually the easy part since it’s mostly phone calls. I am helping with a lot of dropping off and picking up but not being the “babysitter” all the time. It’s really tough when my Mom and sons and grandsons all need me and I have to choose and prioritize, but the more help in place the better.

    My motto that I have drilled into everyone’s heads is CALENDARS AND PLANNING PEOPLE! I bought calendars and planners and made them put the calendars where everyone can see them. Prevents a lot of “Oh I forgot about that” followed by my being asked at the last second to jump in to the rescue.

    Good luck to everyone and thanks for sharing!

  7. Cynthia Parker

    I’ve been taking care of my parents for years. They aren’t old, barely in their mid-sixties, and they freely admit they are spoiled by me, unable (or often unwilling) to take care of their own needs because they like having me take care of things. Dad gets embarrassed because he doesn’t have the intellect to keep up with a fast-talking doctor, or terminology that is just too far beyond him. His health has been deteriorating slowly, but progressively. Mom works too, a highly stressful job that is just exhausting. I don’t have kids, but sometimes I see them as my kids. (I’m not eating that. I’m tired of taking all these meds. I’m not tired. I’m too tired. I’m hungry. Did you…? Could you…?) Sometimes the demands and complaints are downright comical, but usually it’s just parr for the course and just next on the to-do list. I’ve been dealing with it for years and I don’t have a husband or child adding to the pull. I admire people who can juggle so much more than I do, but then I also say, why are they forced to take on so much? So many people are overworked, stressed beyond measure, and trying to handle a demanding job and the demands of generations at home. One of the main reasons I started this business was to help people in that situation. I can take on someone’s added burdens, help with some of the busy work that just eats up hours and let them take the time to do what only they can do best. I offer services to help busy people when their schedules just can’t keep up with the struggles and strife. There are people out there that are able and willing to help. By all means reach out. Ask for help.

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